Posts Tagged ‘Politics’
How many of us have ever been president of something? I was elected president of the Southwest High School German Club in the fall of my senior year. I wasn’t ambitious or qualified; I just had the most Germanic name so I was the leader of choice. My only responsibilities involved overseeing the annual fundraiser, the Gummy Bear sale, and making sure we had enough competitors for the Foreign Language Fair. Gummy Bears were still very exotic in 1984, so they were an easy sell. Recruiting classmates to perform plays in German was a different story. We ended up with only two entries in the spoken German category; my best friends supported me by performing “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” auf deutsch and yours truly and another friend performed a depressing dialog about a teenage girl who becomes pregnant and tries to convince her Mutti that a stork is responsible. Whether it was the material we chose or the talent we presented, none of us left the fair with a ribbon that day. Sad, since we had given up a Friday night to be in top form for Saturday morning competition; and we didn’t win any resume-building accolades. It was that Saturday evening that I decided being president, being the one responsible for all, is not for me.
Being a president is hard work. Are any of us really capable or qualified to be president? The definitions of president sound pretty impressive: head of state; chief executive; person who presides over an assembly, corporation or group; one who governs a body of people, etc. What, with all that power, who wouldn’t want to preside? Who hasn’t thought, just once, “Heck, I could be a better president than that guy!”
Consider the gauntlet a presidential hopeful must run before being elected or appointed president. I’m not just talking about being POTUS; I’m talking about being president of the booster club, the company, the charity organization. To be president of anything you must possess ambition, thick skin and the strong belief that you have something to offer. You need to be convinced of what you stand for and defend it mightily. You must risk offending, upsetting and leapfrogging obstacles in your way. You’re required to be sycophantic and charming and accept being revered and despised. Whatever gains you make by becoming president of something, they are often offset by what you lose as being president of something.
Who takes the fall when a company’s earnings fall below expectations? The president. Who gets the blame when the philanthropy’s board members resign and donations stop coming in? The president. Who is reviled when unpopular policies are put into place and employees no longer get a 401k match or can wear jeans on Fridays? You guessed it, the president.
Who gets the credit when a company has a record IPO? Not the president who leads the company and hires the specialists who build and sell the products, it’s the board of directors, the analysts, the market makers. Who takes the victory lap when a team wins the national championship? Not the university president who hires the coach and allocates the budget, but the coach and the players. So, it sounds like as president, you get all of the blame and none of the glory. Now, remind me again why anyone would want to be president?
In the 223 years since George Washington was elected the first president of the United States, we’ve had only 44 men serve our great country in that role. And among those 44 men who served, there are some whose names we don’t recognize, some whose names we celebrate, and some whose names we’d rather forget. But no matter what our political ideology, education, income or belief system, we should always recognize and respect the office of the president of the United State and the man, or woman, who serves in that role. We ought to respect the role of president of anything, because it is not an easy role to play. You try finding a 17-year-old who wants to give up his Saturday to perform Ali Baba in German . . . You try being president of a sorority leading 85 young women, 64 of whom don’t like each other . . . and why not give a shot to running a business, a military, a social services network and an education system, simultaneously. No thanks, you say?
Then on this President’s Day, let us renew our respect for leadership even if we do not agree with the leader. Let us sympathize with those in leadership positions who assume significant personal risk and sacrifice because of what they believe in. And let us try to be more compassionate to those who take the risks to take the lead.
Kersten Rettig is a marketing and public relations professional and mother of two future presidents.
Election night brought all sorts of surprises: while Republicans swept the major races, the biggest winner was booze, with beer & wine sales propositions passing in Dallas, Addison, University Park, Lancaster, and beyond. With an economy this rough, government should never stand between a man and his whiskey. Still, the biggest headline was in the Texas governor’s race, in a story that has been shockingly ignored by local media: the heroic third place finish by one Reid Slaughter.
I learned of my good fortune late this afternoon, when You+Dallas staffers returned from the polls and announced that they had written in my name for Texas Governor. I could certainly understand the decision: disenfranchised, hungry for new leadership, and anxious to receive a raise of any kind, these idealistic young journalists and filmmakers turned to the one they believe can lead our state to the Promised Land … or perhaps give them a better parking space. So, if Rick Perry [2,658,000 votes] or Bill White [1,977,000 votes] cannot serve for any reason (accidents happen!), then yours truly [4 votes, possibly 5 if the brown-nosing freelancer actually wrote me in] will move into the Governor’s Mansion, order one of those cool reclining massage chairs with a Lone Star seal on it, and govern us to prosperity. Applications for my cabinet of advisors begins now.
With just a couple of days remaining before the midterm elections many people, including me, are bemoaning what appears to be a new low in political discourse that suggests a complete abandonment of America’s position as the standard-bearer of liberal democracy. If the evidence of yelling, screaming, head stomping, and complete disregard for the truth is any indication, on Wednesday, November 3, we could be facing a new Congress that is likely to turn the rotunda of the Capitol into a cage-fighting ring to settle petty political scores. And to be fair, neither party is innocent here. There are nasty people on all sides. It bears remembering, however, that American democracy has always been a messy and chaotic business and extremism is nothing new. Furthermore, extremism, like that which marks much of today’s Tea Party rhetoric, has a way of becoming diluted over time while offering new leaders a springboard to interpret underlying principles in more attractive ways.
In the last fifty years, the American experience has hurtled forward from Kennedy’s Age of Camelot, to the Age of Aquarius, and now the Age of Apaté (a-pat’-ay), named for the Greek goddess of deceit whose evil spirit was released once Pandora opened her box. The lid on Pandora’s mythical box (actually a jar) was loosened by the alchemy of Ronald Reagan and the ambition of Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the Cold War. When Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika-styled reforms slipped perilously toward revolution the Soviet model imploded. However, what was once widely considered a great victory over godless communism – the collapse of the Soviet Union – quickly became affected, or perhaps more accurately infected, by the spirit of Apaté. Hubris and deceit were easier and, let’s face it, more fun than humility and honesty. With the Soviets out of the way, we Americans were free to assume a wide berth of exceptionalism to expand our reach and reign. And, we did it on the wings of Apaté.
Every seventy-five years or so America endures a period of crisis that lasts from twelve to seventeen years. They include both profound economic and security effects that put the country at leviathan levels of risk. The founding of our country was itself a period of crisis; later was the Civil War and Reconstruction, and in the twentieth century the Great Depression and World War II. The current period of crisis in now three years old – marked by the date our capital markets began to realize they were standing in the quicksand of credit default swaps secured by vapor and hubris. I would argue we are far from seeing the depth of the current crisis, nor are we even near a midpoint. It would be ahistorical to predict otherwise. We have yet to even see the axe of conflict fall. No, 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan don’t count – at least not yet, although they probably provide the framework for much wider conflict with many more actors involved. I remain convinced that our capacity to start and perpetuate war far exceeds our ability to end it. The preposterous realization that we are unable to even define what a ‘win’ is, is all the evidence anyone needs to defend that claim. Be that as it may, my intent here is not to debate the dilemmas that face policymakers and provide fuel for Gadarene punditry today; rather to explore what historians will later observe with the crisis behind them, as they write the inevitable story of how American identity was changed forever (or at least until the next crisis in around 2095). If we are smart, we will write a different future than historians might expect. But we better wise-up soon.